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Consumer News and Advice Archive


What is a variance?

A variance is a request made to your local jurisdiction to deviate from current zoning requirements. If granted, a variance will allow you to use your land in a way that is normally not permitted by the zoning ordinance because it waives a certain requirement of the zoning ordinance. For ...


What should I know about zoning issues and approvals?

Zoning regulations establish how the land can be used, either for residential, industrial, commercial, or recreational purposes, or sometimes a combination thereof. Designed to protect property owners and communities from undesirable, or inappropriate, land uses and/or construction, zoning laws can be very rigid and inflexible. On the other hand, ...


Do I have to be concerned with building codes and permits?

Depending on how your contract is written with the home improvement professional, either you or the contractor will be responsible for securing government approval to perform most remodeling jobs. Building codes set minimum public-safety standards for such things as building design and construction. Codes vary from one state, county, city, ...


What are some of the legal considerations relative to remodeling?

There are many, including those surrounding zoning, permits, variances, and building codes. All of these regulations are the government's way of controlling the physical development of land and public-safety standards for such things as building design, construction, alteration, repair or demolition. The regulations vary from one state, county, city, and ...


What should I know about mechanics’ liens?

A mechanic's lien is a "hold" against your property that provides contractors and suppliers legal recourse to assure payment for services. The liens vary from state to state and allow for a cloud on the title of your property and foreclosure action. Also, if you paid the contractor, but he ...


What are allowances and what should I know about them when planning with a remodeling contractor?

Rather than price specific products or materials, many contractors prefer to use product allowances, an amount included in the contract to be used toward the purchase of these products and materials as they are selected by the consumer. Typical categories where allowances might be used include flooring, cabinets, and lighting ...


What should I look for in a warranty from a remodeling contractor?

A well-written warranty document detailing specific information should be provided and incorporated as an addendum to the construction contract. Information should also be provided as to the procedure to follow for prompt warranty services, as well as what happens should a dispute arise over warranty issues.


Does the contractor have to provide a warranty for the work?

It depends on whether one is required by state law. If your contractor offers a warranty, which ensures quality workmanship and required repairs if faulty products or workmanship is discovered, ask to see a copy of the written provisions to make sure you have sufficient protection from defective work. You ...


What if the contractor bungles the job?

If you have a legitimate complaint, keep after the contractor until the needed repairs or alterations are made. If this fails, contact your local Consumer Protection Agency. Keep a copy of the contract, receipts, and photographs of the work. Although it has no legal authority, you also may want ...


What other cost controls or budgeting ideas might be helpful?

Plan ahead and create a realistic budget. Decide on the items and materials you would like to have in a room and set your budget accordingly. This will prevent hasty, and costly, decisions down the road. The experts suggest setting aside 10-20% of your budget to cover unforeseen problems and ...


Are there ways to save money when using a contractor?

Be an educated consumer: aggressively shop for the most reasonable bid, not necessarily the cheapest. Inexpensive, but shoddy, work will only cost you more money in the long run. After you find a contractor, insist that trade discounts on materials be passed on to you, or buy materials yourself. Root ...


Once I choose a contractor, what items should be covered in the contract?

According to the National Association of the Remodeling Industry, a well-written contract should contain the following information: ...


What role might engineers play in my remodeling project?

Soil and structural engineers can be particularly instrumental to a home remodeling project. An engineer can tell whether you can tear down a kitchen safely or whether the walls can bear the load of a second or third story. You can use an engineer to size interior supports, stamp a ...


What basic services can I expect an architect to provide?

Most projects require a set of basic services. They are as follows: preliminary, or schematic, design; design development; preparation of construction documents (drawings and specifications); assistance in the bidding or negotiation process, and the administration of the agreement between you and your builder or contractor, if needed. Some projects will ...


What questions should be asked of an architect?

Ask questions that will give you a sense of the architect's style, approach to design, and methods of work. For example: What is your design philosophy? What important issues or challenges do you see in my project? How will you approach my project? What will you show me along the ...